Q&A with Dow senior leaders

We talked to four senior leaders – Rebecca Bentley, Karen S. Carter, Mary Draves and Amy Wilson – about how Dow continued to drive action on its ESG priorities in 2020.

Join our conversation on how ESG priorities are driving value across Dow

Rebecca Bentley, vice president of Public Affairs

Karen S. Carter, chief human resources and inclusion officer

Mary Draves, chief sustainability officer and vice president of Environment, Health and Safety

Amy Wilson, general counsel and corporate secretary

In the past, Dow has published separate sustainability, inclusion and diversity, and corporate citizenship reports. Why is Dow publishing one ESG report for 2020? What’s changed?

Mary Draves

  • For years, Dow has been a leader in sustainability reporting, and elements of ESG criteria have been woven into our reports. This year, we continue to follow GRI Standards Comprehensive option, but we are telling our story through a more holistic ESG lens, and making the data more readily available for our stakeholders, through one integrated report.

Rebecca Bentley

  • All three areas are critical to our overarching narrative – how Dow is addressing today’s challenges, and, in the process, making us a stronger company. These actions support our company’s growth and our customers’ goals. They also enrich the lives of people working at Dow and the resilience of the communities where we work and live.

Karen S. Carter

  • ESG has become a shared expectation of our employees, our leaders and our owners. The expectation is that we will deliver visible and meaningful progress – and increase transparency around that progress. This new ESG report enables us to tell our full story together and show how an inclusive culture and diverse workforce helps us develop solutions for a more sustainable world and drive business results.

Amy Wilson

  • Governance ties it all together. Alongside environmental and social issues, good governance lies at the heart of good business. How do we ensure we are operating with transparency and integrity for all of our stakeholders? How are we identifying and managing the sources of long-term value creation and risks? It is a single narrative. This ESG report also demonstrates our commitment to integrity and transparency. It shows our progress and our learnings. And – importantly – it establishes ambitious targets against which we are holding ourselves accountable.
Dow has made cultivating an inclusive culture one pillar of its ambition, alongside sustainability, customer-centricity and innovation. Why? How is engaging Dow’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) part of that strategy?

Karen S. Carter

  • Inclusion is a powerful catalyst that accelerates customer-centricity, sustainability and innovation. Fundamentally, our ambition is only made real through the actions of Team Dow. An inclusive culture brings out the most innovative, fresh thinking in all Dow people. We need a culture where everyone feels they belong and can contribute – a culture built on trust, transparency, empowerment and accountability.

    Our ERGs are an incredible asset as we strive for a more inclusive company. Our 10 ERGs represent different dimensions of diversity and are safe havens for employees to see themselves, be themselves and to be heard. And, just as important, ERGs are places where allies engage to learn and advocate for people who may be unlike them. We consider our ERGs to be a source of sustained competitive advantage because research and our own data tell us that employees who participate are more engaged. Our ERGs also provide opportunities for employees to play an active role in our talent processes, in community outreach, and serve as resources for business success.
What are the main sustainability challenges for Dow and for the industry as a whole?

Mary Draves

  • In 2019, we set out an accelerated roadmap for our sustainability agenda. First, we defined our sustainability priorities by asking: What are the most critical sustainability needs of our industry, and where can we make the most significant difference? The answer: climate protection, circular economy and safer, more sustainable materials for our world. These areas are central to both our license to operate and our future growth.

    And in 2020, we developed new long-term targets that will help us lead our industry toward carbon neutrality and a world without plastic waste. Climate change and plastic waste are among the greatest technical, social and economic issues the world has ever faced. Dow products and technology are critical to addressing both.

    Our climate target is our commitment to implement and advance technologies to manufacture products using fewer resources and that help customers reduce their carbon footprint. The goal is clear: By 2030, we will reduce our net annual carbon emissions by 5 million metric tons. And by 2050, we intend to be carbon neutral in alignment with the Paris Agreement. Getting there isn’t going to be easy. To achieve true carbon neutrality, we need step-change technology and step-change thinking. Already, we’re making progress.

    Turning to plastic, we know lightweight plastic is essential to a low-carbon economy, but plastic waste has to stop. Too much finds its way into rivers, landfills and oceans. Our plastics plan consists of two targets: Stop the Waste and Close the Loop.

    Stop the Waste is about investing and collaborating in key technologies and infrastructure to significantly increase global recycling. It states that by 2030, Dow will enable 1 million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through direct actions and partnerships.

    To close the loop, we are committed to redesigning and promoting reusable or recyclable packaging applications so that by 2035, 100% of our products sold into packaging applications will be reusable or recyclable. This reflects our commitment to work directly with our customers, brand owners and the value chain to redesign and promote reusable or recyclable packaging applications, like our RecycleReady Technology for packaging applications.

    Dow is taking a unique approach to these challenges, recognizing they are closely linked, and therefore, approaching them together as we seek solutions. The targets offer an opportunity to drive meaningful progress and include collaborating with our value chain and industry partners, governments, NGOs, communities and other stakeholders.
What’s the connection between value creation for shareholders and value creation for society?

Amy Wilson

  • Industry-leading environmental, social and governance performance are all essential to delivering long-term shareholder value. They are integrated into our business and operational strategies, making us a stronger, more resilient and more profitable company. In addition, our success has a ripple effect – from job creation to community support to continued investment in sustainable innovations for our customers. All of this has a positive impact on our communities and society overall. For example, our Consumer Solutions business is investing in solutions that produce fewer carbon emissions and preserve biodiversity at our Breu Branco site. Locally, these solutions help protect the rainforest while providing much-needed jobs to the community. For customers, they help meet their goals for net-zero emissions and sustainably sourced, nature-derived ingredients for personal care products. It’s a great example of how what’s good for our business and customers can be good for the environment and local communities, too.
Dow is devoting significant resources to helping improve racial equity through its Dow ACTs program. How did the Dow ACTs program come together, and what changes would you like to see as a result of it?

Karen S. Carter

  • Last June, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, our CEO, Jim Fitterling, hosted a virtual conversation on racial justice, which was sponsored by our Global African Affinity Network and attended by more than 1,000 colleagues, including Dow’s entire senior leadership. We’ve been on a journey for several years to accelerate our progress on inclusion and diversity. While we’ve made progress in many areas, our people made it clear that we needed to use the full range of Dow’s resources to support a broad-based movement against systemic racism in all of its forms.

    We launched Dow ACTs, a holistic plan to address systemic racism and racial inequality in the areas of advocacy, community engagement and our own talent pipeline. This plan was approved by Dow leadership and our Board of Directors. Overall, we’ve pledged $5 million over the next five years to help accelerate change, plus an additional $5 million to support historically Black colleges and universities and community college skilled trades programs through 2024.

    There are far too many actions to name here – and you can read more about Dow ACTs in the report. But let me just highlight a few: In the area of advocacy, we have joined a multi-year partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to support their newly launched National Racial Equity Initiative. In our communities, we are focusing our long-standing Dow Promise Grant Program to positively impact Black communities near Dow locations. To strengthen our talent pipeline, we are focusing on the recruitment, development and advancement of U.S. ethnic minority talent through existing programs like BEST and Diamond symposia, which are designed to introduce students to the wide range of career opportunities at Dow. In addition, we have focused on improving representation in leadership through the new Advocacy in Action sponsorship program.

    While the commitments aligned to Dow ACTs focus on racial injustice in the United States, the framework can be applied and adapted to address other forms of systemic discrimination around the globe. For example, Dow Brazil has already launched Dow ACTs to remove racial inequities for Black (Pretos) and Brown (Pardos) people. And the adaptation of the framework to address anti-Asian discrimination is also underway.
What does good governance of ESG issues look like? How is Dow’s board helping oversee ESG issues at Dow?

Amy Wilson

  • At Dow, we believe that good governance takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach and we demonstrate that in various aspects of our ESG approach. For example, from a top-down perspective, we have several mechanisms in place to ensure our sustainability strategy is integrated across Dow and our progress is transparently reported and properly measured. At the highest level of our company, oversight is provided by Board committees. We also bring in diverse perspectives and guidance through our external Sustainability External Advisory Council. Our ESG reporting team tracks our progress against our metrics. Executive-led Carbon and Plastics teams help drive progress against our new targets, while business and function sustainability leaders oversee the sustainability strategies for each of their business units. As another example, our corporate citizenship actions are governed by the Dow Company Foundation Board.

    At the grassroots level, Team Dow is engaged in reinforcing our sustainable and inclusive actions in many ways – including employee volunteer efforts and collaborative innovations with our customers. A Joint Inclusion Council engages our Employee Resource Group leaders to coordinate and activate thousands of Dow employees to ensure we are maximizing their impact and the strategy remains relevant.

    Everyone is accountable for our ESG priorities at Dow. In fact, we incentivized our team members around the world by adding ESG elements to our annual Performance Award program.
Dow is a global company, manufacturing products in 31 countries. How does Dow take a strategic, enterprise-wide approach to corporate citizenship while also being responsive and relevant to local community needs?

Rebecca Bentley

  • It’s a great question, and a challenge we embrace. We start with a Global Citizenship strategy that has five strategic priorities: advance sustainable solutions, build inclusive communities, develop tomorrow’s innovators, engage employees for impact and collaborate with communities. These pillars of engagement help guide our activities and investments in our communities.

    Our strategy comes to life through Team Dow at every level in our organization. For example, our ALL IN ERG Fund is helping build inclusive communities by providing seed grants that support ERG-initiated community projects aimed at advancing inclusion. Our STEM ambassadors are helping develop tomorrow’s innovators by sharing their passion for STEM in classrooms and through activities such as FIRST® Robotics. These activities are supported by a new global volunteer policy that includes paid time-off for volunteer work.

    We also make sure we listen to and get feedback on community priorities. One way we listen and engage is through Community Advisory Panels, which meet on a regular basis and include a number of community stakeholders who share their perspectives on issues, challenges and opportunities. By building strong relationships with our communities, we are able to collaborate on a variety of topics and help bring about real change on issues that matter most to our neighbors.
In what ways do the circular economy and carbon management present risks, and in what way are they growth drivers?

Mary Draves

  • Climate change and plastic waste are major challenges of our times. Both business and governments are amplifying efforts to reduce the risk and impact of climate change through carbon management. The same is true for the circular economy. Governments are stepping up their involvement in bringing about a circular economy. At the same time, more major retailers and brand owners have targets for 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging, and many of these companies have committed to substantially increasing the recycled content in their products.

    One of the biggest risks to any company confronting these issues is inaction. Both decarbonization and achieving a circular economy will require breakthrough technology. Risk management strategies must go beyond business as usual and also consider how to facilitate benefits to our society. By going big with collaborations and investments and taking a holistic approach to the challenges we face, we can help contribute to a more stable and prosperous future – and find new paths to growth.

    Take circular economy as an example. It is not enough for Dow to be concerned about our own materials and what they are made of. We also need to be aware of how they impact the wider system of collection and recycling. To that end, we are looking for ways to accelerate local solutions that bring value to plastic waste and prevent waste from entering the environment in the first place. Our goal is to scale up projects and initiatives that improve the economics of recycling infrastructure and recycled polymers. Learn more.

    We also believe that our materials science can play a unique role in contributing to a carbon-neutral global economy. In addition to reducing our own emissions, we are investing and innovating products that contribute to a low-carbon society, such as materials for lightweight cars, building insulation and solar panels. In fact, many of our products help lower our customers’ emissions by more than the carbon emissions used to produce them.

    So, yes, we see sustainability as both a driver of growth and an element in managing our risks. It is integral to our business strategy.
This year has been challenging, from a pandemic to worldwide calls for an end to systemic racism to natural disasters. What have been your biggest learnings? What are you most proud of?

Rebecca Bentley

  • One of the biggest learnings has been the power of intentionally listening, followed by purposeful action. Dow’s response to the pandemic was based on listening to the science and statistics and learning as much as we could as quickly as possible. That process informed – and continues to inform – our actions. The same is true in terms of social justice. Karen talked earlier about the listening session with our Black employees. Listening led to launching Dow ACTs – an incredibly intentional set of actions.

    I think I’m most proud of how Dow people can turn heartbreak into positive action. From the tragic murder of George Floyd, Dow people have come together to embrace Dow ACTs and engage in activities like our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Or if we look at the incredible toll of COVID-19 – physically and psychologically – Dow people have come together to support each other, as well as the needs of our customers and of our communities around the world. Learn more.

Mary Draves

  • Rebecca, that is so true. Let me add, the once-in-500-years flood in Midland, where Dow is headquartered, forced thousands of people from their homes. Some people lost everything. I’m incredibly proud of how Dow people volunteered by the thousands to help people recover.

Amy Wilson

  • In fact, many of us were out there with our friends, neighbors and colleagues cleaning up flooded basements and helping people who had to move to shelters. And we KEPT bringing our minds, hearts and hands into action this year to help with ongoing recovery efforts as our community continues to work to rebuild. That community spirit and willingness to step up and help is a common trait among Dow people around the world. We live where we work and we work where we live, and this year has been a powerful example of the value of that.

Karen S. Carter

  • I know some people were watching to see if our focus on inclusion and diversity as a business imperative would stop or pause while we were navigating through such a challenging year. But I know when you intentionally focus on inclusion and diversity, you can do some of your most impactful work in the face of crises. That’s why what I am most proud of is the impact our ERGs had on driving our culture and contributing to our communities, even in the midst of the crises. How they helped us respond to the flood, racial injustice and the global pandemic. Or how they also kept Team Dow engaged in creative ways, which led to best-in-class participation levels. I am also proud of our leaders, who worked to build a culture of trust and empowered our colleagues to do their best work, whether onsite or from home. And, despite the challenges, we achieved our highest employee satisfaction rate in 2020. In other words, inclusion and diversity were definitely not canceled at Dow.

Rebecca Bentley

  • We know there are no easy solutions to the environmental and societal challenges we face. But we also know that our people, science and technology can make a difference. Every day, Team Dow is working to create a more sustainable, equitable future. And we’re eager for others to join us.